Recipe for Good Service on Valentine's Day


Valentine’s day is difficult enough as it is. You either embrace the holiday, ignore it to the best of your ability or enjoy openly reviling the one day of the year couples are supposed to celebrate their love. You either have plans, are actively seeking to avoid romantic arrangements or are desperately trying to piece together a night to remember.

With the Internet’s pages thick with last minute Valentine’s Day recipes and romantic ideas, I offer a different type of pre-Valentine’s day nugget of information.

A Restaurant Insider’s guide to making it through Valentine’s Day

1. Make reservations to your favorite restaurant well in advance of Valentine’s Day.
Granted, on the day before Valentine’s Day this advice comes late, but it’s an important reminder for all of you that think that calling the day before Valentine’s Day is reasonable. Getting a table at 7:30 the day before Valentine’s Day is like trying to get concert tickets for a Bruce Springsteen concert an hour before the show. It will take a miracle to get you in. Valentine’s day is one of the busiest nights for a restaurant. Most people know this and book reservations for Valentine’s Day a month in advance. See below.

2. If you’re late in booking reservations don’t take your frustrations out on the reservationist or manager.

It’s not the restaurant’s fault you’re late on booking. If you’re flexible about dining times (i.e. coming in really early or really late at night), they might actually be able to work something out for you. Walking in without a reservation isn’t a good idea if your date wants to be seated right away. A one to two hour wait time for a walk in table is reasonable on Valentine’s Day.

3. Don’t double book reservations
It’s great to have options, but if you have more than one reservation, cancel one of them now. There are hundreds of people dying to take your spot (see #2) and the restaurant counts on you showing up for dinner.

Why not? Well, in nicer restaurants for example, very few people walk in to a restaurant on Valentine’s Day without a reservation. If you don’t show, the restaurant loses the equivalent of two guests sales.

4. If you don’t have reservations and don’t want to take a chance on walking in to a restaurant start making plans to eat at home.
There’s nothing wrong with making a great meal at home. You may very well save some money, be close to the bedroom for when the romantic mood hits and with a more flexible budget you can splurge on a nicer bottle of champagne and beautiful desserts from the local bakery. See suggestion # 11.

5. If you can’t afford dinner out at a fancy spot, don’t go there
Though this may seem obvious, this is a point most overlook. Sure you may want to go splurge, but if you think a $40 dollar entrée is expensive, don’t go to a restaurant that serves $40 dollar entrees. A $40 entrée you can’t afford, regardless how masterfully it’s prepared, will disappoint you.

6. If your loved one has food allergies or dietary restrictions make sure the restaurant you’re going to has dishes they can eat.

If your date can’t eat meat, don’t go to a steak house. If your date can’t eat dairy, don’t go to a cheese bar. Seems obvious enough, but many people think that they can change a few things around on the menu and create a reasonable substitution. Unless you’re going to a restaurant that caters to your loved one’s particular food requirements, don’t expect a modified, sauce-on-the-side entrée to wow your guest. Modifications are last minute changes to long time perfected dishes and are often a real disappointment. Chefs don’t like to modify their recipes, just like you wouldn’t want to have to re-cook an entire dinner for one guest that showed up late or unexpected to your house for dinner.

7. Valentine’s Day is the day to celebrate love. Share some with those around you.

People get very stressed out around major holidays–Valentine’s Day in particular. Some of the worst behaviors are witnessed on these days. In my more than 15 years of waiting tables I’ve seen many a Valentine’s day inspired horror show. Sure there are lots of cute, sweet couples, but more often than not the restaurant is filled with angry spouses, bitter couples desperate to speed up cooking times so they can depart and guests so twisted up with expectations (see #8) they can’t even get out of their own way to have a good time.

For the sake of everyone around you, please be nice to the people that wait on you or take care of you.

8. Have reasonable expectations
A restaurant is a place that serves food and beverages. Even though Valentine’s day may be special to you, restaurants continue to do what they have always done: serve the same food they always have (with the exception of romantic decorations or “romantic” specials)

Minor adjustments aside, regardless of the holiday a restaurant will always be a place that serves food. It is not a location that offers magic dust or romance pills. Please don’t get mad if the food tastes like food or the waiter doesn’t give you an ego-massage. We’re not there to entertain you (unless you’re going to a live music restaurant), the restaurant staff are facilitators of serving great food with a pleasant attitude.

9. Don’t linger at your table

This one is hard for most diners to understand. If your dinner has been cleared and the desserts were finished long ago it’s time for you to go. If you are still sitting at your table chit chatting you should know that there is a couple standing up at the host stand yelling at the manager for being late on their reservation. You are the reason why people aren’t being sat on time for their reservation. For God’s sake get up from the table and go make kissy face at home!

10. If you hate Valentine’s Day avoid restaurants that cater to couples on the night of Valentine’s

Though we’d love to see you come in, you’re probably going to get very upset by the spectacle of handholding (and browbeaten) tables for two. You’ll also most likely have to suffer through a “romantic” prixe fixe menu that is likely to make your skin crawl.

11. Think about take out
If you really can’t stand the idea of cooking, I would suggest the take out option. Ethnic food take out is your best bet for limited wait time. If you want something fancy, do keep in mind that the busiest time for the fine dining kitchens on the night of Valentine’s day will be between 7:30 and 8:30, so don’t be surprised if you have to wait a while for your food.

OTHER IMPORTANT NUGGETS:

Why can’t I get a reservation on Valentine’s Day?
It’s a math thing. There just aren’t enough tables for two in one given night. If a restaurant only has 4 tables, on Valentine’s Day the booking manager will more than likely try to put couples on all four tables—regardless of their size. See below.

THE MATHEMATICS OF VALENTINE’S DAY

Regular Saturday night of small restaurant at first seating:
2 TABLES OF TWO = 4 people
2 TABLES OF FOUR = 8 people
TOTAL TABLES IN RESTAURANT = 12

Valentine’s Day in a small restaurant
2 TABLES OF TWO = 2 couples–4 people
2 TABLES OF FOUR = 2 couples—4 people
TOTAL TABLES IN RESTAURANT = 8 total

In a short time the restaurant must cater to a slew of couples—which taxes the restaurant’s seating options to the maximum. On this special night, tables that are usually held for four or more guests suddenly become viable real estate for the restaurant to use for couples—thereby minimizing the amount of people they can seat that night.

Thank you for your support.

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Brooke Burton nominated for best food writing

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Food Woolf Written by:

Brooke Burton is an Los Angeles-based restaurant professional and hospitality expert. She is a freelance food writer, speaker, and co-author of The Food Blog Code of Ethics.

7 Comments

  1. 5 Star Foodie
    February 13
    Reply

    I firmly conform to the rule #1. Call the day the reservations are open (whether it’s a month in advance or three months or whatever the restaurant rules are).

  2. Recipe Style
    February 13
    Reply

    What a fantastic way to show the recipe Service on Valentine’s Day! I appreciate your tips…can be a great gifts showing ideas…

  3. Lori Lynn
    February 15
    Reply

    Good advice. I worked for years in the restaurant industry. Sometimes the guests don’t understand the business. Hopefully your post will enlighten some, and hope you had a Happy Valentine’s Day.
    LL

  4. Food, she thought.
    February 15
    Reply

    All wonderful advice for people who dine out on Valentine’s Day. My most romantic Valentine’s meals in the last few years have been takeaway with a fabulous bottle of wine on the sofa.

  5. white on rice couple
    February 16
    Reply

    This has got to be one of the ultimate guide to surviving Valentine’s Day dinner.
    LOL at #5, it’s so true. So often people try to impress with expensive meals beyond their budget. #6 is so obvious too, but some people still don’t get it.
    Hope you survived the crazy weekend! I’m gonna bookmark this guide!

  6. Carolyn
    February 19
    Reply

    Brooke,
    Thanks for the reminder that good service is at least partly a matter of being a good customer. I think I might publish a similar set of rules for the patients in my office!!

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